Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dialogue On Sheol, the Soul and Politics (Originally An Email Message)

I have made a few corrections for ease of reading, but the message is fundamentally the same as it was sent to my colleague:

1) Jehovah's Witnesses view Sheol in the light of Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10, passages which speak of the dead knowing nothing and which portray Sheol as a locus of non-activity. Similar verses are found in Psalms and Job. I'm sure you're also familiar with the Jewish metaphor "sleep" for death. This imagery for death suggests that no activity occurs in Sheol. As for the account where prayers for the dead supposedly transpire (in Maccabees), it has been interpreted various ways. But the bottom line is that one does not necessarily have to construe the account as an instance of prayers for the dead. See the NAB footnotes on 2 Macc 12.

2) How do we know that physical organs are only capable of apprehending particulars? What incontrovertible proof do we have that intellects (of the Thomistic caliber) even obtain? I admit that an intellect qua a power of the soul is logically possible. However, I am not convinced that such a faculty is factually possible. So I guess my first line of attack would be to question the existence of the intellect, in the relevant sense we're discussing. Secondly, I would argue that what has been called "intellect" is really nothing more than a higher-order process of the brain: intellection is a biological phenomenon. The brain consequently makes it possible for us to have the facility for grasping what appear to be universals.

3) I have never participated in the election process because of my religious beliefs. We Witnesses think this world is beyond reform; it's incorrigible or irreformable. That which is crooked cannot be made straight (said Qoheleth). Therefore, politicians are inherently limited when it comes to positive reforms. No wonder Jesus fled when people tried to make him a king (John 6:15). He solemnly proclaimed that his kingdom was not of this world. These Johannine accounts regarding Jesus deeply influence my political stand. But from a pragmatic standpoint, it's difficult for me to vote Republican or Democrat since I disagree with a number of things each party advocates. Whether it's abortion, same-sex marriage or cutting social programs that help the poor--there are significant points of disagreement between me and Obama/Romney.

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